I’m watching Panorama, I’m broken inside: Sara’s story. I feel really saddened that none of what I’m hearing is a shock to me; because I have either seen things like this or experienced things like this. Luckily for me, I never managed to succeed in my suicide attempts. Sadly, 17 year old Sara Green, in this episode, died in a psychiatric unit for children & young people. She made a wire ligature and sadly couldn’t be saved.
I have no idea where to start to be honest. First the fact that she was moved into inpatient care miles away from her family. So far, they lived on tuna sandwiches for a week so they had enough money to travel to see her. And they could only financially manage to visit her twice a month. That was a close call for me on one occasion when there were no beds locally and I might have gone to yorkshire. Lucky for me, a bed in a neighbouring borough became available.
The staff at The Priory, where Sara was being cared for, cut off her hair using ligature cutters, whilst she was being restrained. Why? Because she had threatened to ligature using her hair. Now, where do you draw the line? How is this not assault? I fully agree it’s important to keep vulnerable and unwell people as safe as possible by first, removing or reducing any risks. If she had blades they’d have been removed. But they would take her sight so she couldn’t seek out more blades. They wouldn’t chop off her legs if she threatened to abscond. But it’s fine for them to hack her hair off? Personally, I think that’s a disgrace, but that’s just my opinion.
Having been in hospital many times before, I fully understand that certain behaviours can be learned through seeing other patient’s do things. To be honest, before I first went into hospital, I’d never considered ligaturing as a way of self harming or attempting suicide. But on each stay in hospital, I’d usually clock up a few ligature attempts in my notes. The first time somebody else on the ward ligatured, unfortunately for me, it was a serious one. I heard all the commotion, the alarms, staff shouting to each other down the corridors, their bunches of keys clashing as they ran to their patient and colleagues. I remember lying on the bed, heart pounding, felt terrified. And whenever I felt the need to self-harm or attempt to end my life after this, I would usually find or make a ligature. Usually when I did this, it was a suicide attempt. Whether or not I actually wanted to die, I don’t know. At that moment in time, I felt like, and thought that I did. But looking back, I realise that deep down, I usually wanted to be found, stopped and supported. I was always found (thankfully), and stopped. Hardly ever supported though. Usually, I’d have my room stripped. On one occasion, my room was stripped of everything. I was lay on the bed in a state after I’d just had a ligature cut from my neck by staff. The ligature was removed and all staff in the room left. I lay crying alone, feeling so desperate. A couple of minutes later, 2 staff members came into my room, armed with bags. They literally took all my belongings from my room, stuffed everything into bags like they were cleaning up rubbish. What happened next is something I still feel humiliated about. They stood over me asking me to take off my clothes and wear the hospital nighty they had brought for me. First, I was shocked. I refused to even move. They tried to persuade me, and when I didn’t budge, they told me that if I didn’t strip off myself, they would have to do it for me. So reluctantly, I took off my top. I took off my bottoms. Still wasn’t enough. I cried my eyes out as they sat on the bed with me and watched me take off my underwear, socks included. I put on the nighty, still sobbing, I watched them bag the clothes I’d taken off and proceed out of the room with everything I’d brought in. I sobbed for ages. I begged for my things back. But nobody saw that distress, they explained it was for my own good… That if I didn’t have anything, I couldn’t try anything. Trust me; if you were to lock me in a room with nothing, I would still find a way to hurt myself if I am in that frame of mind. There were times where I actually bit myself because I felt so desperate to hurt myself. When they found out I was doing that, I was no longer allowed to stay in my room apart from at night time to sleep. I’d be forced to sit in ‘social areas’ where they could ‘keep an eye on me’. Well I’ll tell you now, when you’re dosed up on drugs that zonk you, you really just want to sleep it off in a quiet private place. Not in the lounge where other unwell patients would come in & out, some noisy some not so!
I had one admission where they stripped my room, and I had to ask staff to unlock the cupboard whenever I wanted something. Then they would sigh and moan every time I’d ask for something, because they were so busy. Every morning I’d need my toothbrush, toothpaste, clothes, hair brush, deodorant etc. Every evening the same. For the whole of my time there (approx 6 weeks). I felt degraded, ashamed (other patients would watch as I’d follow a member of staff to the cupboard to get what I needed) & felt like I had no privacy. Picking out underwear in front of others every day isn’t a great feeling.
Having just finished watching Sara’s story, I realise I am one of the lucky ones. The bad experiences I had were nothing compared to hers and other people’s stories. I’ve seen and heard so much, and things are continuing to spiral as the Government cut funding. Services are failing; letting both their staff & patients down so much. Wards are understaffed, staff are stressed & when incidents occur, they struggle to keep everything contained and keep everyone safe.
It worries me, it angers me, it saddens me and it frightens me. How much longer can services go on like this?